As many of you know, I attended the Smithsonian's American Art Museum opening for The Art of Gaming exhibit yesterday. I wanted to post a follow up blog to it today that included all of the pictures of the event; unfortunately the hotel's Internet won't support me uploading that many high resolution pictures before stalling out. So instead I'm going to blog about a topic that came up during one of the panels: GameFest - Evolution of Video Games: The Future hosted by Curator Chris Melissinos including discussions with Paul Barnett, Mark DeLoura, Ken Levine, and Kellee Santiago. You can listen to it here if you're interested.

Before I start, I'd just like to say I have a new found respect and admiration for Ken Levine. I know who he is and what he's done, but hearing him talk in person was an enlightening experience.

If you don't know who he is...

Ken Levine is the creative director and co-founder of Irrational Games. He led the creation of the multi-million selling, multiple "game-of-the-year" award-winning video game BioShock, and is known for his work on Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2. He was named one of the "Storytellers of the Decade" by Game Informer and was the 1UP Network's 2007 person of the year.

So, when asked about the Evolution of Gaming and the future, he had a response that wasn't really what I was expecting but found rather fascinating, especially since it's something I blogged about recently and had on my list to revisit.

I posted a blog on March 14 titled, "Hardcore Tactical Shooter - The Unknown Kickstarter Project". You can view it here if you're interested. At the time, the project was just under three weeks and is now down to about two weeks, so with time being of the essence, I just posted the blog with every intention of doing a follow up blog on Kickstarter and its impact on the video game industry. I mean, there is no denying the fact that Double Fine drew in a whopping $3.3M dollars and inXile drew in over $1M dollars for a Wasteland sequel is an exciting topic.

Given my busy schedule with travelling up to Washington D.C. and what not, I added Kickstarter to my list of blog topics to come back to at a later date. And then, lo and behold, sitting five rows deep and within spitting distance to Ken Levine when he's asked about the future of does he respond...


I don't recall his entire answer word for word, but I will say that it predominantly revolved around Kickstarter, or some variant of Kickstarter, and how it was going to impact the development of video games. Mr. Levine seemed to think that it might not be just Kickstarter, but that some form of crowd-sourced solution inspired by Kickstarter could be just as likely.

He would know more so than somebody like myself, but I think it's a fascinating topic.

Creating video games is an expensive endeavor, no doubt about it. And before investors plunk down bucket fulls of money to the development team, they want to make sure they're going to get a worthwhile return on investment. And if they're not, chances are they're not going to invest the money. That often results in some really good ideas floating around the minds of some proven developers never seeing production because of no funding. That is or can be unfortunate for us.

Then, along comes something like Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a crowd funding website for creative projects. Kickstarter has crowdfunded a diverse array of endeavors, ranging from indie film and music to journalism, solar energy technology and food-related projects.

Kickstarter facilitates gathering monetary resources from the general public, a model which circumvents many traditional avenues of investment. People must apply to Kickstarter in order to have a project posted on the site, and Kickstarter provides guidelines on what types of projects will be accepted. Project owners choose a deadline and a target minimum of funds to raise. If the chosen target is not gathered by the deadline, no funds are collected (this is known as a provision point mechanism).

The Kickstarter website is clean, slick and fun to navigate around the different projects. Take a look at it here.

Not only is this a brilliant investment model, what I find even more fascinating is the opportunities it gives us as gamers. Sure, the developers are raising a ton of "free" money without all of the limitations associated with money hungry investors worried more about profit margin than our happiness with the end product...

But those who support a particular project have a unique opportunity to "own" a part of a game they have an interest in and contributed to.

In the Navy, if you are assigned to a ship prior to its commissioning (when it's built and put into active service) and are part of the commissioning crew, you are what's called a "plankowner".

Plankowner is a term used by the United States Navy, and has consequently been variously defined by different units. The origin of the term is the implication that a crew member was around when the ship was being built and commissioned, and therefore has bragging rights to the "ownership" of one of the planks in the main deck.

In essence, a contributor to a video game Kickstarter project becomes a "plankowner". Even if you contribute the least amount and get nothing more than a free copy of the game, you're still a part of its inception, development and production.

That's pretty cool.

What's even cooler is some of the incentives that come along with the larger contributions.

Take a look at Wasteland 2's Kickstarter page, you'll find everything from special Collector's editions to the opportunity to create in game content and can even have a statue made in your honor.

If you didn't see my blog on the Hardcore Tactical Shooter Kickstarter page, contribute enough and you can even be a character in the game.

Now that takes cool to a whole new level.

There are some dissenting voices in the crowd who don't sound like big fans of Kickstarter. They'd rather focus on the fact that some already wealthy and successful development teams are asking us to pony up our money, which presumably we have less than what they do, to fund their project.

If you ask me, that's kind of a close minded way of looking at all of this, especially when you consider that even if you contribute the minimum amount, you'll at least get the game...probably for cheaper than what it would cost if you bought it after it's released. Of course the obvious concern is what if the game never happens, but one could argue...what if it does...and what if it's the next Minecraft or Angry Birds?

This is a big topic. Clearly. I mean, when someone like Ken Levine is asked about the future of gaming, and instead of talking about advances in hardware or the blurring of genres, he mentions funding and the crowd sourced model...that should be obvious it's important and bigger than this simple blog.

But like most things I blog about, I'm a gamer, so I look at it from the perspective of a gamer, and all I see is the opportunity to contribute both financially, and potentially creatively, with games I'm interested and enjoy. For the price of one video game, I have the opportunity to be a plankowner of that video game.

If that's the future of gaming, I'm ready to contribute to its success.